Commonwealth v. Hill

Decision Date28 November 1967
Citation427 Pa. 614,235 A.2d 347
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. John Henry HILL, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

F. Neal Sever, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Robert W. Duggan, Dist. Atty., Edwin J. Martin, Asst. Dist. Atty Charles B. Watkins, Asst. Dist. Atty., Pittsburgh, for appellee.



ROBERTS Justice.

In 1942, upon a plea of guilty to murder generally, appellant was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. On September 1, 1966 he filed a petition under the Post Conviction Hearing Act, Act of January 25, 1966, P.L. (1965) 1580, 19 P.S. § 1180--1 et seq. (Supp.1966), setting forth three grounds for relief: (1) that his plea of guilty was not knowingly and intelligently made; (2) that he was deprived effective assistance of counsel; and (3) that he was not properly arraigned. After an attorney was appointed to represent Hill in this post conviction proceeding, the hearing judge, on November 14, 1966, dismissed the petition without an evidentiary hearing. However, on the very next day, consistent with our decision in Commonwealth ex rel West v. Myers, 423 Pa. 1, 222 A.2d 918 (1966), Judge Graff wisely vacated this order and scheduled an evidentiary hearing. At the hearing appellant was the sole witness. He maintained that he was never arraigned, and that his counsel had never told him of the consequences of a guilty plea, or of his right to a trial by jury, but, instead assured him that he would be sent only to White Hill for some time. Appellant was 16 years old at the time of sentence. Although the original transcript of the 1942 guilty plea hearing has been lost, and Hill's trial counsel at the time of the post conviction hearing had been dead for six years, Judge Graff, who also presided at the 1942 hearing, chose to disbelieve Hill, and consequently denied relief. From that denial Hill

On the issue of Hill's guilty plea, we start with the well established doctrine set forth in Commonwealth ex rel. Crosby v. Rundle, 415 Pa. 81, 85, 202 A.2d 299, 302 (1964), cert. denied, 379 U.S. 976, 85 S.Ct. 677, 13 L.Ed.2d 567, (1965). As the Court there noted: 'When an accused pleads guilty to an indictment, it is presumed that he is aware of what he is doing: (citing cases). Hence, the burden of proving otherwise is upon him.'

With the burden of proof thus on appellant, we hold that the hearing judge was justified in refusing to accept Hill's version of the circumstances under which his plea was entered. [1] A decision of this sort turns on a pure question of credibility; we can find no basis upon which to challenge Judge Graff's evaluation of appellant's testimony.

Appellant next contends that he did not have effective assistance of counsel at the time his plea was entered. This Court has just recently announced the test in Pennsylvania for determining when counsel can be said to have been constitutionally ineffective. In Commonwealth ex rel. Washington v. Maroney, Pa., 235 A.2d 349 (1967), we held that before a claim of ineffectiveness can be sustained, it must be determined that, in light of all the alternatives available to counsel, the strategy Actually employed was so unreasonable that no competent lawyer would have chosen it. The facts in this case fall woefully short of meeting such a requirement.

Appellant and two other men, were arrested in connection with the robbery and assault of one Veseley, as well as the robbery and murder of Joseph Ramoska. Shortly after their arrest, all three men voluntarily confessed their guilt orally, and later in writing. There is no allegation that any of these statements were unlawfully induced. It is clear that, faced with this overwhelming evidence of guilt, the age of ...

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